Art installation depicts Indian Residential School System

Published on October 30, 2015
The Witness Blanket features more than 800 artifacts from across the country depicting the Indian Residential School System. The art installation is on a seven-year tour across Canada and will remain on display at the Millbrook Culture and Heritage Centre until Nov. 26. Raissa Tetanish - Truro Daily News

By Raissa Tetanish 
An art installation representing the Indian Residential School System has reached the Millbrook Culture and Heritage Centre.

The Witness Blanket features more than 800 artifacts collected from residential schools, churches, government buildings, friendship centres, band offices and universities from across Canada, sculpturally and symbolically woven into a blanket made of cedar wood. It’s on a seven-year, cross-Canada tour, and will be on display locally until Nov. 26.

“I created this monument to reflect the strength of my people and, as more people experience and stand witness to this piece of Canadian and First Nations history, it is my hope they will be affected in some way,” said Carey Newman.

“The fact that the blanket is now travelling the country and being shared and experienced by people in every province and territory — people who may or may not know about what really happened to First Nations people — is a humbling experience for me as an artist.”

Newman first envisioned the piece partly in response to his father's experiences in residential schools — experiences his father was reluctant to share. Not wanting that history to be lost, he saw an opportunity to create a tangible reminder.

In 2013, he and a small team travelled across the country visiting communities and events, such as the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, to share his vision for the blanket and to encourage people to provide items for the project. They collected letters and photographs, children's shoes, pieces of former schools, including that from Indian Brook, and even shorn braids.

“I am proud that the community of Millbrook is able to host this national memorial,” said Millbrook Chief Bob Gloade. “Residential schools had a devastating impact on Mi'kmaq communities. Events such as this, held in the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre, are not only part of reconciliation but demonstrate to all that our culture is thriving.”

The blanket structure is more than two metres high and 12 metres long. A multi-media presentation helps connect viewers to the blanket in a personal way. A downloadable app gives the history of each piece.

The Government of Nova Scotia provided plaster rosettes from the Legislative Chamber at Province House and door handles from Government House.